Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Andrea Bianchi and Gabriele Crisanti bring you...Le notti del terrore!

Andrea Bianchi and Gabriele Crisanti bring you...Le notti del terrore!

By Michelle Alexander

The late 1970s-early 1980s was a golden era in Italian horror cinema as directors such as
Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Ruggero Deodato were setting box offices on fire with the
most famous/infamous movies of their careers. At the same time, producer Gabriele Crisanti, noting the success of his fellow countryman, was determined to claim a slice of the money-making pie. Along with a small stable of regular collaborators, Crisanti quickly churned out almost a dozen low-grade potboilers which gave the target audience exactly what they wanted – blood, boobs and bush in spades. Plots take a back seat in favour of cheaply executed but  graphic jack-in-the-box gore scenes, gratuitous sex and nudity (often
juxtaposed with sexually violent deaths), and an all-round fetid, sleazy atmosphere. The
characters are often unlikable bickering oddballs who are hacked up off one by one, set to a
background of occasionally recycled locations and music. Always astute of the marketability
of his product, Crisanti rapidly turned out film after film with similarities, albeit on a much
more limited budget, to whatever what was in vogue with moviegoers at the time in the
horror and softcore genres.

Following the phenomenal success of Dawn of the Dead (1978), a steady flow of walking
dead-themed films  - mostly from Italy - rapidly followed, such as Zombi 2 (Zombie, 1979),
Incubo sulla citta contaminata (Nightmare City, 1980), Virus (Hell of the Living Dead,
1980), Paura nella citta dei morti viventi (City of the Living Dead, 1980) and Zombi
Holocaust (1980). Noting this trend, Crisanti promptly hired director Andrea Bianchi, whom
he’d previously collaborated with on the sordid exorcism/nunsploitation hybrid Malabimba
(Malabimba: The Malicious Whore, 1979). By utilising the apocalyptic nihilism of the
zombie genre and blending it in with their own misanthropic, perverse filmmaking universe,
the pair created a derivative but hypnotically strange undead saga. Bianchi and Crisanti’s
productions are also notorious for going where even seasoned genre practitioners wouldn’t
touch – pushing the boundaries of graphic gore and sex in the hope of delivering the nasty
goods to the spectators hungry for such thrills.

Le notti del terrore (Burial Ground, 1981) begins with a pre-credits sequence. Delving
into research at his centuries old sprawling villa, Professor Ayres (Raimondo Barbieri)
uncovers an ancient Etruscan tomb deep beneath its foundations. However, the professor’s
discovery also unleashes a horde of rotten, worm-infested and bloodthirsty zombies who
immediately devour the helpless man, accompanied by Elsio Mancuso and Berto Pisani’s
eerie electronic soundtrack. Cue opening credits, which the music abruptly cuts to some saxy lounge music that sounds composed decades earlier, and indeed it was – this particular music cue was first used in a 1963 film, Katarsis. Three couples, invited by Professor Ayres who is intending to show them the tomb, arrive at the villa. However they have no idea of his demise and settle in, awaiting his arrival. One of the couples, George (Roberto Caporali) and Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano), have brought their son Michael (Pietro Barzocchini aka Peter Bark) with them. Michael is not only extremely odd in appearance (the character is meant to be pre-pubescent – Bark was 25 years old at the time, but appeared middle-aged due to progeroid symptoms) but also in manner. He has a disturbing Oedipal fixation towards his mother, spying on her during sex and trying to feel her up. The main characters frolic around the villa, completely oblivious that the living dead are creeping up all around them. Before long though the guests discover the reason for Professor Ayres’ disappearance and are having to have to fend off the zombies, who, interestingly enough, have the ability to operate power tools, throw knives, and use battering rams to bash through doors. At one point they even disguise themselves in monk’s habits to ambush our heroes.  One by one the guests are slaughtered, entrails are ripped out and consumed and the body count piles up – until we get to a notorious scene which I guarantee will stay burned in your mind forever. Evelyn, one of the last survivors, is thrilled to see Michael is still apparently alive. In her delirium she fails to see he is well and truly a zombie, and when she sees him staring at her breasts she has no qualms about offering him one to suckle. “Just like when you were a baby...” But Evelyn’s ecstasy quickly turns to agony when Michael chomps down on her nipple, ripping the whole thing off. Mother and son are therefore forever reunited amongst the living dead, with the final two remaining survivors are also quickly wiped out.

While on paper Le notti del terrore may sound like an unimaginative, pointless, by-the-
numbers zombie quickie, Andrea Bianchi and Gabriele Crisanti have worked their dubious
magic yet again. The combination of truly rancid-looking, wormy zombies, the incest
subplot, and buckets of queasy gore create an unforgettably clammy, sickening, nauseating
atmosphere with an effective sense of doom from the beginning, managing to override the
typically atrocious dubbing, sub-porno standard acting - with the exception of Mariangela
Giordano, who gives it her all especially when she’s kicking zombie ass - and the absolute
minimum in terms of plot and characterisation. What differentiates Le notti del terrore from
other Living Dead-themed features of the era is that it has Bianchi and Crisanti’s trademarks
stamped all over it.  Unashamedly outrageous, audacious, with a shock factor that still packs a punch today, it utilises a simple formula (‘So Dawn of the Dead had blood and gore in it? Well we can do better that that – we’ll put ten times the amount of blood and gore in. And put in lots of hot naked women too!’) Script development is left behind in the slow lane in favour in the sex and violence elements, which are in fifth gear from the beginning. Special mention is also given to the wonderfully old world grand set location of Villa Parisi (which can also be seen in another Crisanti production, Patrick vive ancora (Patrick Still Lives, 1980)) and ominous electronic score  - save for the anachronistic jazz music. Le notti del terrore has its own unique appeal that makes it such a memorable film. It’s a down and dirty, endearingly inept and gloriously trashy zombie saga that those in the know should get a kick out of. All others should proceed with caution... and NO politically correct expectations whatsoever!

Saturday, 26 January 2019

The Censorship History of Cannibal Holocaust in Australia

The Censorship History of Cannibal Holocaust in Australia
By Michelle Alexander

Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was arguably the most notorious of the Italian cannibal cycle of films that were produced in the 1970s and 1980s. With its infamous footage of slaughtered animals as well as graphic depictions of rape, torture and flesh-eating,  the movie’s intensity is heightened even moreso by the then revolutionary device of the majority of the narrative being relayed as found footage artefacts. Unsurprisingly, the film ran into immediate trouble with international censors, including Australia’s Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), who were quick to ban it. It would take over 20 years (and countless Customs seizures) before Cannibal Holocaust finally saw the light of day in Australia when it was granted an uncut DVD release in late 2005.

Cannibal Holocaust’s plot is thus: A rescue mission led by New York University anthropologist Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) travels to the Amazon to search for a missing award winning documentary film crew. The team of four had intended to film a TV program on indigenous cannibalistic tribes whose habitat is deep in the jungle. Monroe locates one of these tribes, the Yanomamo. The Yanomamo people at first react with both hostility and sheer terror at Monroe’s presence, until he gains their trust. The village elder ‘gifts’ Monroe with some film cans which had belonged to the documentary crew. Upon his return to New York City, the anthropologist discovers, via the found film reels, the horrifying truth behind both the filmmakers’ disappearance and why the tribespeople were petrified upon seeing him. The crew, a cocky, obnoxious quartet, had been disappointed at the tribe’s docility. Hungry for sensationalistic footage, they decided to set up some acts by embarking on a rampage of unspeakable cruelty – burning huts of natives alive, butchering animals, gang rape - all filmed by their voyeuristic lens. The Yanomamo subsequently extract their own lethal revenge on the ruthless interlopers... 

An uncompromising no-holds-barred critique of the Mondo subgenre, Cannibal Holocaust is typically either revered or despised. Celebrated for being an intelligent, haunting, passionate, outstandingly shot masterpiece of cinema. Hated for its unflinching scenes of violence and sexual abuse and apparent ‘poor’ acting and ‘sloppy’ filmmaking. Whatever one’s views may be about Cannibal Holocaust, it remains incontestably one of the few films that questions awareness and plays with emotions.

Being a lifelong European horror cinema fan based in Australia, I have observed and documented the struggles of securing a legal release for Cannibal Holocaust in this country, and even being able to view the film without the Australian Customs Service interloping (pre-2005). Despite audiences having to sit through ropey, grainy, bowdlerized prints fully of jarring jump cuts, the Italian cannibal subgenre in Australia was fairly lucrative, especially when released in the early 1980s as rental video cassettes. Noting this success, Fox-Columbia Film Distribution submitted an uncut 35mm print of Cannibal Holocaust to the OFLC in May 1983. The film was promptly awarded “Refused Classification”. Fox-Columbia tried again in September of that year with a trimmed 89 minute version, but the Censorship Board would not budge with its initial decision. Arguably the OFLC’s decision would have been heavily influenced with the Video Nasties hysteria occurring in the UK at the same time – Cannibal Holocaust was considered to be one of the ‘worst’ films on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list. Another likely factor was the sexual content. Sexual violence alongside graphic gore was - and still is - a particular ire of the OFLC. 

Following the censorship board’s blanket ban of Cannibal Holocaust, local Eurohorror fanatics keen to view the picture after reading tantalising descriptions in essential tomes such as Phil Hardy’s Encyclopedia of Horror, Martin Baker’s The Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Media and Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies explored other options, such as the thriving bootleg market. One of the best of these mail order outfits was Phantastique Video, who operated out of Melbourne’s north-western suburbs and specialised in banned and uncut dupes of all matter of horror, cult and obscure cinema. If one was willing to risk the draconian wrath of Customs, there was also the choice of buying or trading from a myriad of international operations such European Trash Cinema, Something Weird, Midnight Video, Cinefear Video and Video Search of Miami.

In regards to my own tracking down of Cannibal Holocaust back in 1996, I happily stumbled across this forbidden fruit in inner-Melbourne counterculture store Polyester Books’ stash of bootleg tapes. Needless to say I was shocked and stunned by Deodato’s brutal masterpiece. Being a horror-savvy and already cinematically jaded teenager at the time, Cannibal Holocaust was another dimension altogether. Its overall effect is best described as being on a super-fast, jolting in all directions amusement park ride – a combination of satisfaction, bewilderment and queasiness. The dupe’s muddy, blurry nth generation quality and Spanish subtitles only added to its devastating impact, giving it a ‘snuff movie from bedlam’ feel. 

More absurdity from the powers that be wore on into the twenty first century. In 2001 The Melbourne Underground Film Festival had intended to screen Cannibal Holocaust following a censorship panel debate, however the festival director backed down after police warnings of a hefty fine or possible jail term. Upon the release of the Dutch EC Entertainment DVD in 2002, many fans jumped at the chance to upgrade their scuzzy copies of Cannibal Holocaust, including myself. However Customs swooped, confiscating the disc I’d ordered from the USA. Rather than dealing with the red tape involved with arguing the case, I simply obtained the DVD a few weeks later via another avenue. 

Finally, in October 2005 the Australian Classification Board came to its senses, passing Cannibal Holocaust completely uncut with an R 18+ rating. The successful applicants were Siren Visual Entertainment, who subsequently released the movie on DVD in April 2006. It was truly a surreal moment to see, after over two decades of stringent bans and overzealous Customs seizures and raids, this much-maligned work of cinematic art sitting prominently on the shelves of retail outlets. To further add to this turnaround, Cannibal Holocaust was broadcast uncut on the pay-TV World Movies channel in 2013 as part of its “Films that Shocked the World” week. Advertisements for the screenings stated: “They’re the movies that changed the face of cinema. They’ve been banned around the world and have been the cause of arrests, court cases and protests. They’ve caused moral outrage and countless newspaper headlines. Now, over one controversial week, World Movies brings you the ‘Films That Shocked The World’ – all for the first time on Australian television”. 

There have been countless varying viewpoints over the years regarding the historical and cultural significance of Cannibal Holocaust, but one defining characteristic connects them all and that is the argumentative nature of the movie. Is it groundbreaking? Is it an important cultural document or a comment on a society bereft of morals? A remark on sensationalism in the media? The other angle sees the film as nothing but worthless rubbish, a wasteland of morally bankrupt filmmaking, offering nothing but sadistic shock value and completely devoid of any redeeming qualities. In hindsight, it appears that the Australian Classification Board were in unanimous agreement with the latter opinion for many years.  The moral questions raised in the film about the media and our bloodthirsty society since Cannibal Holocaust’s initial release have only been made more poignant through the passage of time.

Perhaps, in the post-2000 climate of hyper-sensationalised reality TV shows and instant gratification via one click or swipe, the decision makers on the board had an epiphany and realised the significance and place in celluloid history Cannibal Holocaust has, not only for the movie’s hardcore fans, but for all serious students of cinema.


“Cannibal Holocaust.” IMDB,

 “Cannibal Holocaust.” Refused Classification,

Koha, Nui Te. “Banned films to screen at festival.” Herald-Sun, 27th June 2001, p. 9.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

A look at "Very Special Episodes" Part 2: Cherie Lifesaver - Punky Brewster

“Cherie Lifesaver” - Punky Brewster
Season 2, Episode 16
Original Air Date: 19th of January 1986

To a contemporary viewer, the Punky Brewster Very Special Episode “Cherie Lifesaver”, which revolves around Punky Brewster’s (Soliel Moon Frye) friend Cherie Johnson (Cherie Johnson) getting stuck in a refrigerator and subsequently being revived by CPR, may sound like a bizarre and unlikely concept. However, children perishing from being trapped inside old-style fridges was not uncommon at the time of the episode’s original screening. In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission received 59 reports of suffocation deaths due to children, usually aged between four and seven years old, crawling into refrigerators and being unable to open the door from the inside. Although the government passed the Refrigerator Safety Act in 1956, requiring manufacturers to design fridges with a magnetic
mechanism inside the door, making it easy to open from the inside, many households, particularly in impoverished communities, still held on to their pre-magnetic latch design models. The passing of the Act was also the catalyst for mass dumping of pre-1950s fridges without removed doors for several decades after. Definitely a tempting hide-and-seek prop for bored kids roaming the neighbourhood, as is demonstrated in “Cherie Lifesaver”. In context with Cherie’s refrigerator mishap, the episode also highlights the importance of learning and knowing how to practice cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) at any age. The producers took the issue seriously enough to send the young cast to CPR training. This realistic approach ensured equally convincing performances – during recording of the episode in front of a live audience, worried young fans were yelling “Oh no! Get her out!” during the fridge entrapment scene. Subsequent reports to Punky Brewster cast and crew about children administering CPR in real life emergencies after watching the show are a legacy of the chord it struck with viewers. Witnessing one of the series’ most beloved characters almost die remains one of the most lasting memories of old-school Punky fans – Cherie Johnson herself confirmed this: “I really had no idea that 34 odd years after it aired, people would still be talking about it. Like it has such a cult reputation.”

“Cherie Lifesaver” begins with Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes), Punky Brewster’s
adopted father, explaining to Punky how reliable his ancient refrigerator is: “I love this machine. It was built in the day when things were made to last.” He has no choice but to buy a new one however when it finally breaks down. While lamenting the loss of his beloved old fridge, Punky and Cherie mention to Henry and Cherie’s mother Betty (Susie Garrett) that they’re going to be learning CPR at school that day. The girls’ teacher, Mike Fulton (T.K. Carter), explains that it’s just as essential for kids to know the technique as well as adults. The students, including Punky’s other friends Allen Anderson (Casey Ellison) and Margaux Kramer (Ami Foster) go through the drill, practicing resuscitation on dummies. Allen doesn’ttake any of it seriously as he doesn’t think he’ll never need to practice CPR on anyone (“I just figured this is stuff for grown-ups”), so spends the time goofing around and marking smart comments until Mr. Fulton sends him to the principal’s office. Meanwhile Henry purchases a new refrigerator and temporarily leaves the old one in the yard while he waits for the Salvation Army to collect it. Punky invites Cherie, Allen and Margeux to her house after school and they decide to play hide and seek outside. Cherie sees the fridge as an ideal hiding spot, and stows herself in it.  Unfortunately she is unaware that the door cannot be opened from the inside. Henry warns the kids not to play near the refrigerator and that he is going to remove its door after it stops snowing – but it’s too late. Punky, Allen and Margeux go indoors with Henry to take cover from the snow, mistakenly thinking that Cherie is in the apartment. It’s only after the yard is empty when Cherie realises she can’t get out – she screams for help but can’t be heard. The others eventually realise she is missing and search for her, before Henry thinks to look in the old fridge. To his shock, Cherie is unconscious. Knowing the kids have been learning CPR in school, Henry tells Allen, who is nearby, to help Cherie. Allen has no idea what to do as he didn’t pay attention, so he rushes off to dial 911. On the way he lets Punky and Margaux know what’s happened.  Recalling their CPR lessons, the girls manage to stay calm and fortunately are able to successfully revive Cherie. Allen feels terrible and racked with guilt at being unable to help his friend. Henry consoles the distraught Allen by saying that he didn’t know CPR either, and that he should have removed the refrigerator door straight away. The episode concludes on a light note when Betty asks her daughter how she’s feeling, and Cherie cheerfully replies “Hungry”.

Although writer Stephanie Mathison is credited for “Cherie Lifesaver”, the genesis of the episode was thanks to then seven year old Jeremy Reams. A contest was held by the producers of Punky Brewster where children could send in their story ideas, and the best one would be filmed. Reams’ premise, involving the kids learning CPR in school, then finding themselves in a situation where they needed to use it, was chosen and scribed by Mathison. She and the show’s creators decided on the idea of the refrigerator after reading about the amount of fatalities caused by abandoned old models which could be only opened from an outside latch, often occurring during games of hide and seek. According to Joyce Fowler of the Fort Scott Tribune: “...the appliance or chest provided a deceptively good place to hide. When the door slammed shut, the tight fitting gasket on most of the appliances cut off air to the child. This, along with the insulated construction of the appliance, also prevented the child’s screams from being heard.”  Cherie Johnson praised Punky Brewster’s producers for aiming for both the show’s fans and cast alike to learn some valuable lessons about life, rather than the episodes just being throwaway entertainment. “The producers were so right on target, that not only did we do an episode all about the importance of CPR, but we kids actually took lessons on it and learned how to do it! So we were all like CPR experts by the end of the week. I think it’s so amazing that the producers cared that much and got us on board to actually know the practice rather than just do this Very Special Episode where it could have just been treated as strictly entertainment. Nothing like this happens now, producers don’t care about that kind of thing. They’d just wanna do their show and be done with it. The producers on Punky Brewster felt it was their duty to instil some life lessons not only for the audience, but for the cast of the show, which I think is amazing. There was a sense of responsibility.”

“Cherie Lifesaver” drives home the point of CPR being an invaluable skill set for all ages in the scene where Allen is sobbing and repeatedly apologising for not being to help Cherie because he didn’t listen when Mike Fulton was teaching it. He’s extremely shaken up knowing that his foolishness rendered him useless in this critical situation. In addition, the importance of the issue was not trivialised by having Mr. Fulton laugh at Allen’s annoying goofing off or playing along with his banter – the exasperated teacher banishes Allen to the principal’s office. Henry’s qualities as a soft-hearted, protective and paternal guardian, not just to Punky but also to her friends, are touching shown when he expresses his guilt over not detaching the refrigerator door immediately after moving it to the yard. Although not as obvious a statement, there is also a message conveyed in “Cherie Lifesaver” in that safety should always take precedence over sentimentality. For example, someone hanging on to their unroadworthy, highly unsafe rustbucket of a car solely because they are attached to it. Henry was not holding onto his failing pre-Act fridge out of financial desperation, he could have updated it many years previously, but clung to it for sentimental reasons, despite having to clear out ice from the freezer every few days.

As with “Just Say No”, Cherie Johnson has fond memories of filming “Cherie Lifesaver”. Regarding the filming of the refrigerator entrapment scene, she recalled “Physically doing the stunt was awesome! The first time I got into the refrigerator, the back was not off. There were two producers standing behind the fridge, the director and a stage manager and they bought me towards the fridge all together because they didn’t want me to be afraid. Now I was a tomboy, so I was like “Hey! I can’t wait to do this!” I mean this was one of my first ever stunts. I was excited. They told me if I got nervous they would open up the fridge, so we did it and I was fine, and when I came back to do another run through, they had cut a hole in the back. The stage manager said that he wasn’t comfortable with me being inside a sealed fridge, he was just not happy with me getting in there without a hole being cut out. So, while I was doing the scene, the stage manager kept asking me “Are you OK? Are you OK?” and I was like “I’m fine!” Now come tape night, the whole back of the refrigerator had been taken off, I mean this stage manager was just so afraid of me being in that thing! These adults that worked on the show really cared about us as kids.  While the audience was there, the stage manager was still asking if I was OK!” Johnson also credits the episode for forever ingraining CPR in her mind: “We learned so much from working on Punky Brewster. I had a baby recently and I got put on bed rest and I thought, “I should take up child CPR classes”, then I started laughing, “I know CPR from Punky Brewster!” But then I thought that I should get recertified. And my recertification was so easy because I knew it from doing the show those many years ago. It was like riding a bike, you never forget – thanks to Punky Brewster it was easy to pass my test!”

Both Punky Brewster’s creators and actors were moved upon hearing feedback of children being inspired to learn CPR, and in a few instances, actually utilising it. Johnson recalls: “There was a story where a little girl was trapped inside a fridge and her brother saved her by using CPR after he saw the episode, so that was amazing.” In a 2016 Mental Floss interview producer Rick Hawkins recalled: “That show aired and the best reward I ever got was a phone call we got the next Monday afternoon. A woman from the Midwest called to say her husband worked for the power company, had been electrocuted on the line, and had fallen to the ground just as some kids were getting off the bus. They had seen the episode, ran over, gave him CPR, and saved his life.”

Thankfully since the days of “Cherie Lifesaver”, refrigerator-related deaths are now
almost non-existent (although as recently as 2013, three children in South Africa perished after becoming stuck in an abandoned fridge when playing near their home). But for many 1980s kids who grew up watching Punky Brewster, hearing little Cherie Johnson’s unheard cries for help and weeping during her refrigerator ordeal was more than enough to scare them from venturing into dumped whitegoods for life. The episode’s effect was such that some young fans were even inspired by Punky and her friends to learn CPR themselves. I’ll leave the last word to the episode’s namesake, Cherie Johnson: “…people are still tweeting me about [“Cherie Lifesaver”] all the time [saying] “If Punky Brewster taught me nothing else, it kept me out of a fridge.”

A look at "Very Special Episodes" Part 1: Just Say No - Punky Brewster

“Just Say No” from Punky Brewster
Season 2, Episode 8
Original Air Date: 27th of October 1985

While Ronald Reagan was declaring war on the Sandinista government during his
presidency (infamously, funds raised to fight the Sandinistas were raised from drug running through Columbia, Panama and other nefarious sources), ironically, First Lady Nancy Reagan was gearing up for her own war on drugs by founding the “Just Say No” campaign in 1982. Focusing on the prevention of substance abuse and addiction in young people, Mrs. Reagan kicked off her decade-long anti-drug crusade with numerous appearances on talk shows, well-publicised visits to drug rehabilitation centres, and frequently broadcasted public service announcements. She visited hundreds of schools around the country, giving talks to students and handing out T-shirts, stickers and badges emblazoned with the “Just Say No” slogan. Aiming to embed her message into popular culture, Reagan guest starred on episodes of Diff’rent Strokes and Dynasty as herself to promote the movement, as well as in the music video for ‘Stop the Madness’, a ‘We Are the World’-styled pop track with anti-drug lyrics sung by numerous music and movie stars. Reagan’s use of popular culture to spread the word was also a further effort to connect with children and adolescents – that young people would see it as ‘cool’ to say no if they saw their favourite celebrities doing so. In a 1986 press statement she noted: “Up until a few years ago there was almost a stigma in trying to speak out against drugs. It was unfashionable. It was illiberal and narrow-minded in our live-and-let-live society. Movies and television portrayed drugs as glamorous and cool. We heard about the recreational use of drugs as if it was as harmless as Trivial Pursuit. Even law enforcement was weakened by the moral confusion surrounding drug abuse. It was as if all the people who sought to fight drugs had to justify their actions.” 

One of the most memorable attempts by Mrs. Reagan to influence the youth market with her campaign is the Punky Brewster Very Special Episode “Just Say No”, which presents a frank and un-sugar coated lesson to its mostly tween audience on not giving in to peer pressure. “Just Say No” begins with the Chicklets, a clique of sixth grade girls unexpectedly turning up at Punky Brewster’s (Soleil Moon Frye) house. Punky and her best friend Cherie Johnson (Cherie Johnson), who is visiting when the group arrives, are surprised but pleased to see them, as both have been hoping to become accepted by the clique for some time. Emily (Alyson Croft), the leader of the Chicklets, asks to see Punky’s treehouse. Impressed, she then invites Punky and Cherie if they would like to join their “very cool and exclusive club”. Overawed, the girls immediately accept. Wanting to fit in with the group, Punky and Cherie try to dress ‘Chicklets style’ – bright layered clothing, plastic necklaces and bracelets, hair bows and makeup. They also adopt the gang’s exaggerated Valley Girl speak. But their efforts are gaudy and garish and their disapproving parents tell them to go back to being themselves. The Chicklets declare that Punky and Cherie must pass an initiation to become fully-fledged members of the club. Desperate to belong, both drink a nauseating concoction of raw eggs, mustard and horseradish with no qualms. However the girls are taken aback at the next dare. Emily places a colourful assortment of drugs in front of them (“just some grass, a few uppers and a little nose candy”) and invites Punky and Cherie to have first choice. Trying to hide their shock, the pair say apprehensively “maybe next time”. An annoyed Emily calls them “babies”, declares “everyone uses drugs” and storms off with the rest of the Chicklets in a huff.

In a dilemma over whether to do what the gang asks or stand her ground, Punky confides in her teacher Mike Fulton (T.K. Carter), asking him for advice. Mr Fulton explains to her what peer pressure is, as well as about the “Just Say No” movement, handing her a leaflet. With their confidence renewed, both Punky and Cherie are no longer afraid to say “No” to Emily the next time she pressures them to take drugs. They also no longer care about wanting to be accepted by the Chicklets and tell the group they’ve formed their own club – the “Just Say No club”. Kate (Stefanie Ridel), one of the Chicklets, is also tired of the peer pressure and sides with Punky and Cherie. The episode concludes with footage of real-life “Just Say No” rallies held around the USA (including marches lead by Soleil Moon Frye and Cherie Johnson), accompanied by a voiceover from T.K. Carter giving an overview of Nancy Regan’s anti-drugs campaign.  

“Just Say No” conveys both clear messages about the dangers of illicit drugs and peer pressure without being too overbearing or knocking the balance of the normal flow of the show off-kilter. Notably Punky’s adopted father Henry (George Gaynes) and Cherie’s mother Betty (Susie Garrett) have minimal screen time in this episode, presumably to avoid becoming overly preachy. Though some commentators have stated the notion of a gaggle of sixth grade girls decked out in the latest Esprit and Guess fashions of the time being drug pushers as unrealistic, it is of course not unheard of. It was, in fact, a clever decision from writer Rick Hawkins to show the audience that drug users can be of any age, race (one of the girls in the Chicklets is Asian) or background, not just the stereotypical emaciated, strung out, improvised addict begging on the street. Cherie Johnson herself stated “I had a conversation with my principal at the time in high school and mentioned that of course I had
done Punky Brewster and that he needed to bring in a kind of D.A.R.E. program into the school of a Just Say No campaign, just like we did in Punky Brewster. And he said that drugs weren’t a problem at our school because we were a private wealthy school. And I was like “Are you kidding me? These little girls here are doing drugs.”

Another significant life lesson the episode delivers is the importance of being yourself and not caving in to peer pressure just to be accepted and popular. That even if you lose favour with some for saying “no”, there will always be others who will support you. Henry and Betty emphasise the importance of embracing individuality when their daughters make their outlandish attempt to look and talk like the Chicklets. The girls take this on board and return to dressing in their own unique styles. Also, any viewer already familiar with Punky’s personality and values would easily predict that she would never compromise her own belief system to fit in with others. Punky is confident, strong-willed, and influential. The latter is demonstrated when the more uncertain, less self-assured Cherie follows suit when Punky refuses Emily’s demands to them to take drugs. It’s likely that if Punky had decided to take
up Emily’s offer, Cherie would have agreed too – fortunately Punky is a good influence on her best friend. Punky’s assertiveness also enables Kate to pluck up her courage and be true to herself by leaving the Chicklets, a clique she was obviously uncomfortable being around.

The performances from the young cast members in “Just Say No” are impressive; indeed as Cherie Johnson points out, their characters were not too far removed from their real life personas. “...I took pride in my tomboyish behaviour. Soliel Moon Frye...was like a child hippy. Soliel would get around without shoes and didn’t care about what she looked like, she was just so earthy and beautiful and free spirited. The little girls who play the in-crowd were older than us and were actually part of a cool clique that Soliel and I knew. We went to camp together and they were totally those kind of girls. Of course they were never into drugs and would never dream of pressuring us into doing drugs, but they were very much like the girls you see on that episode. They also really enjoyed playing their cool selves on TV and they also got to play out their roles in a real nasty and mean way, which is great for an actor because everybody loves to play the villain.”

The real-life footage of Soliel Moon Frye and Cherie Johnson leading “Just Say No” marches made a lasting and positive impact on both the show’s young fans and the actresses alike. Johnson looks back upon her part in the campaign fondly: “Soliel travelled for four years promoting the “Just Say No” campaign... I would be in Georgia and she would be trekking it around the US. Every weekend for four years, we lead rallies around the country. It was phenomenal. I think as a child I didn’t really understand how important the show was and how important its message of “Just Say No” was. I mean, I knew we were popular, because there were thousands and thousands of people on those rallies with us in the frontline. But fame was never discussed at my house. My reality in this situation was the fact that we travelled and made hundreds of friends and made that decision together that we would never take drugs or drink and never ruin our lives with that kind of lifestyle. It is such a lasting message. And I have carried that with me for all those years. People would stop me now and say “Hey I was at that “Just Say No” rally that you lead and I have never taken drugs because of it!” I get that all the time. All these people’s lives have been touched, and they are drug and alcohol free because of these rallies that came about because of Punky Brewster.” Johnson added: “Years later, a very well respected high profile actress who I will not name, was handing out what I thought were breath mints around set. And I was like “Oh yes please! I’ll have a couple” and she was like “No, no, no, not for you” and I was like “Why? What, my breath don’t stink?” and everyone on set laughed at me. Sometime later I found out that those breath mints were drugs, and they were all taking them, but “little Miss Punky Brewster” was not allowed to have any, because they were protecting me. And that was because of doing a show like Punky Brewster. It made me out to be a good kid, and I’m thankful. I would have put that thing in my mouth and freaked out!”

At the time of these marches, the “Just Say No” campaign was at the height of its popularity and recognition. According to The Ronald Reagan Library, by the end of the Reagan administration in 1989, more than 12,000 “Just Say No” clubs had been formed worldwide. No doubt the formation of some of these clubs was brought about by keen Punky Brewster fans. Although Nancy Reagan’s efforts in promoting the prevention of substance abuse certainly made a lasting impression and increased overall public awareness of drug use, the campaign failed to have a lasting impact on the statistics of usage and fatalities. It is most likely that the overly simplistic message of “Just Say No”, equally simplistic grouping of all drugs, from alcohol to crack cocaine, as the evil ‘Other’ (for example, a glass of wine or a joint being classed as equally destructive as heroin addiction) thus raising misinformed and unnecessary hysteria, and lack of solid drug education contributed to the failure of the campaign. In an age where drug use is generally glorified in popular culture and the mainstream media, the “Just Say No” movement is a quaint, and in hindsight, very naive throwback to a bygone era.

Likewise the Punky Brewster “Just Say No” episode has a charming naivety to it, though its message is strong, clear and to the point, and effectively conveyed by the talented young cast. One of the most unforgettable Very Special Episodes, it is certainly one that stays in the viewer’s consciousness, regardless of their opinion of its moral stance.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Unleashing the Lion: the Revenge of the Beta Male in Psycho Scarecrow

Psycho Scarecrow (1996)

Dir: Steve Galler 



New York City, Halloween night: A young woman’s body is discovered on the pavement beneath the shattered window of her apartment several floors above, supposedly a tragic suicide. Two detectives are assigned to the case – cynical, jaded Hammond (Tim Vince), and his more open-minded, idealistic younger colleague Jones (Joe Parro). Hammond finds a tape recording in the woman, Sheila’s (Tracy Rankin) apartment. On the cassette, Sheila narrates the events of the previous few days leading to her demise. She, her best friend Karn (Leanne Simms), Karn’s boyfriend Eric (Douglas Kidd) and their friends Spider (Richard Lee) and Floyd (Mike Upmalis) had driven upstate for a wild weekend. Floyd, considered a weird nerd by the rest of the group, knew of a disused farmhouse they could crash at. Eric’s car breaks down a short distance from the house, so they walk the rest of the way, via a vast and isolated cornfield. Sheila senses a foreboding, almost evil, atmosphere as they cross the harvest, an impression that isn’t helped when Floyd mentions several centuries previously, settlers who were refugees from the New England witch hunts placed a satanic curse on the land to protect the cornfield. Nor does the sight of a particularly grotesque looking scarecrow they bypass in the centre of the field. Once at the farmhouse, the gang kick off with some customary beers and joints around the campfire. Things turn sour when Floyd snaps a picture of Sheila and Spider making out. Hyper-macho Eric takes particular offence to this, punching, kicking and taunting Floyd. The particularly savage beating turns out to be fatal. Sheila and Karn are upset, however a nonchalant Eric, who’d always seen Floyd as a loser, declares that his corpse will be stuffed inside the scarecrow: “The secret will die with us”. Spider adds “Floyd’s an orphan anyhow, we can just hide his body and no-one will care.” Unknown to Eric, something that will happen much sooner than later. In the dead of night, the satanic curse resurrects Floyd’s corpse. And Floyd, cocooned within the ghastly effigy of the scarecrow, is hellbent on revenge against years of being used and abused by his so-called ‘friends’. Brandishing an axe, he stalks and hunts his prey one by one, until only Sheila, his unrequited love who laughed when discovering his crush on her, remains...but was her death caused by suicide, as Hammond intently believes? Or was it the “Psycho Scarecrow”?

At face value, Psycho Scarecrow appears to be an overall simplistic and formulaic, extremely low budget horror effort, peppered with a number of tried and tested elements inspired from various genre titles. However, as a ‘Scarecrows in Cinema’ entry, the utilisation of classic scarecrow imagery and legends as the catalyst in a tormented young man’s brutal revenge against the perpetrators adds an intriguing dimension to the film. The classic trope of the bullied outcast (Floyd) gaining diabolical vengeance on his 'cool' friends by way of supernatural forces is notable. The screenwriters have done their homework in scarecrow lore – indeed some scholars believe that in ancient times, the scarecrow was used in some societies as an effigy for some deity or power, and that human sacrifices would be offered to the gods in return for protection of the harvest. (Canfield 2016). Obviously in this story, the scarecrow guarding the cornfield was the effigy for the black magic practicing settlers, and the spell cast to ensure a prosperous harvest unleashed something far more sinister than its initial purpose – whether this was deliberate or not is unknown. Floyd is the only one of the group who takes the story of the satanic curse seriously – the others all typically scoff at him. Even Shelia, despite feeling an uncanny presence in the field, pays little attention to its significance. Perhaps this is why Floyd was ‘rewarded’ with the gifts of resurrection and superhuman powers upon his death, rather than just simply being used by the demonic forces as a sacrifice. Then in turn, Floyd gives back to the forces by providing them with more sacrifices i.e. his former friends. Though, it could be suggested that the evil spirits are also using Floyd solely for their own purposes, as once he eventually satiates his lust for revenge, he’ll be forever stuck in purgatory. The reanimated anti-hero Floyd’s hideous appearance, dressed in the scarecrow apparel and Jack O’Lantern pumpkin head, menacingly brandishing a sharpened axe, is more than enough to shock the hell out of the usually too-cool-for-school alpha male, Eric. 

The trope of the stereotypical alpha male NOT being the hero of the day and in fact being the catalyst for disastrous consequences is utilised both with the contrasting characters of Eric and Floyd, as well as Hammond and Jones. Floyd, with his awkward manner, permanent goofy grin and overgrown boy appearance, is the obvious fifth wheel of the circle of friends. He’s merely tolerated as he’s used for various things such as the farmhouse, and as Sheila points out, “he always seemed harmless”. Floyd is seen as a nerdy beta male, a pushover who’s incapable of fighting back or standing up for himself.  He stays with the group despite this poor treatment because he’s so desperate to fit in somewhere. An orphan with no other family, Floyd internalises his rage and frustration. In contrast, Eric is the archetypal alpha male – dominant, confident, cocky, the ‘cool guy’ who’s extremely popular with women. To bolster his self-confidence, he bullies those he sees as weak and beneath him.  Because Floyd has been letting his anger bottle up for years without any outlet, the evil forces feed on this negative energy, encouraging him to take out his revenge to the ultimate extreme – murder.   Notably Psycho Scarecrow was released a few years previous to the Columbine High School massacre.  Bullying leading to violence in high schools became much more of a prominent topic in the international media following the tragedy and thus much more openly discussed. Of course bullying is something that’s always been of concern, but it was the Columbine mass murders that really propelled the toxic, sometimes fatal effects of prolonged harassment into the public conscience. Not just in high schools, but also in other environments such as college, the workplace and sporting clubs. This has also led to a growing acceptance of the beta male as a capable leader and possessing desirable traits, rather than having the alpha male as the default ideal of what a man should aspire to be like. Writer Harry Mason notes:  “Accepted wisdom states that nice guys always finish last. But as time goes by, that tide seems to be turning. Being beta has always been a quiet little act of rebellion, but lately it is speaking louder than ever. As gender assumptions are slowly dismantled, and society’s idea of the perfect man shifts from John Wayne to Benedict Cumberbatch, one thing seems certain – the future’s bright. The future’s beta. Now there’s more room for scrawny Edward Nortons amongst all the brawny Brad Pitts.” (Mason 2015).

This is also reflected in the alpha/beta pairing of the detectives. Hammond, with his alpha attitude, bulldozes Jones with his opinion that Shelia was a used-up junkie, that the recording was entirely based on drug-induced hallucinations and she suicided due to this. Every time the Jones expresses his doubts that it was suicide and in fact murder, and that he believes Sheila’s story (he being the more contemplative, sensitive Beta male), Hammond doesn’t want to know, because being an alpha he’s certain that he and he only is right, in control and in charge. Essentially Psycho Scarecrow does side with the beta males because in both cases the alpha males are made to look like boorish fools. Interestingly the film’s final shot features some classic alpha male imagery – Floyd roaring off into the night on a motorcycle, still in scarecrow garb but also clad in a leather biker jacket.  As it’s Halloween Night, he’ll have no problems blending in with the revellers on New York City’s bustling streets in his Alpha Scarecrow ‘costume’. 

Although Psycho Scarecrow doesn’t break new ground in originality, the use of the scarecrow as a plot driver adds an interesting dynamic to the film. It is through both the evil powers emanating from the cursed effigy and its alarming appearance that the downtrodden beta Floyd is able to frighten, intimidate (and later murder) the alpha male who had been long undermining him. Also by film’s end it is obvious that beta Jones assumptions about the case are correct, and alpha Hammond  is presented as being stubborn, closed minded and inept. Though the actions of Floyd in ‘Psycho Scarecrow’ mode are of course heinous, essentially the film is on the side of the underdog, the beta male. In both cases of beta triumph, the usually stereotypically revered and admired models of ‘manliness’, the alpha males have the tables turned on them. I’ll leave the final word with writer Lori Rotenberk: No matter their cultural roots, scarecrows worldwide were conceived of to perform a specific task: to frighten.” (Rotenberk 2014).


Canfield, N. 2016, June 27, ‘Halloween Symbols and Their Origins’. Holidappy. Retrieved 27 June, 2017, from

Mason, H. 2015, April 12, ‘The Rise of the Beta Male’. Cuff Magazine. Retrieved 28 June, 2017, from

Rotenberk, L. 2014, May 28, ‘Hay, Man: The Curious Life and Times of Scarecrows’. Modern Farmer. Retrieved 28 june, 2017, from

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Introducing the Maestro of the Macabre, USA style: An overview of Mario Bava’s AIP distributed films

For most Chelle's Inferno readers, it is likely that Mario Bava needs no introduction. An
extraordinarily gifted director, screenwriter, cinematographer and special effects craftsman,
Bava pioneered the giallo genre and was also instrumental in launching the modern slasher
film. His inventive, darkly atmospheric, visually sumptuous works have influenced countless
filmmakers from Tim Burton to Joe Dante to Quentin Tarantino. North American directors
who have acknowledged Bava often first discovered the Italian master’s unique brand of
cinema thanks to American International Pictures. AIP, who quickly recognised Bava’s
talent, were the first distribution company to release his movies to English-speaking
audiences. Although Bava critics often deride the AIP versions of his works – which were
dubbed, re-edited, re-scored and mature content toned down for their younger patrons - the
AIP cuts always retained that distinct ‘Bava’ look and feel that left an undeniable impression.
AIP also deserves credit for granting Bava the opportunity to be recognised outside of Italy
and on an international scope – his films were soon being released in the UK, Western
Europe and Scandinavia, Asia and Australia, inspiring and igniting the creative fires of
cinephiles from all sides of the globe

In the wake of the remarkable success of the English dubbed release of Le fatiche di
Ercole (Hercules, 1958) and its sequel Ercole e la regina di Lidia (Hercules Unchained,
1959) – to date they are both the highest grossing features in the history of the Italian film
industry – American International Pictures founders Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H.
Nicholson headed to Rome in search of inexpensive, marketable product to distribute in the
U.S. One of the titles they screened was La maschera del demonio (1960), a gripping,
visually arresting opus which was also notably only the third horror release from Italy to date, due to Mussolini’s ban on their production – a prohibition which was not revoked until the mid-1950s. Sensing they were onto a winner, Arkoff and Nicholson purchased the U.S. rights for $100,000 – considerably more than the film’s entire budget.

La maschera del demonio begins with the execution of Asa (Barbara Steele), a 17th

century princess accused of witchcraft. A gold mask with sharp spikes is hammered into her
face. 200 years later Asa’s mask is accidently removed, resurrecting the evil witch who seeks revenge on the descendents of those who put her to death, as well as attempt to possess the body of Katia, a beautiful lookalike relative (also played by Barbara Steele). Upon acquiring La maschera del demonio, AIP got to work reconstructing the movie to make it more suitable for American audiences. Three minutes of graphic violence was truncated, including an eyeball puncturing via a sharp stick, the burning and branding of human flesh and blood gushing from the mask which is driven into Steele’s face. All dialogue was redubbed into English – even that of non-Italian speakers Barbara Steele and John Richardson – and in some cases softened, such as this line: "You, too, can find the joy and happiness of Hades!" AIP changed it to "You, too, can find the joy and happiness of hating!" Roberto Nicolosi’s subtly atmospheric music soundtrack was also replaced by a considerably more melodramatic score by Les Baxter. Finally, a catchy title had to be thought up – after several alternatives including Witchcraft, The House of Fright, The Curse, Vengeance and Demoniaque were considered, Black Sunday was the decided on choice.

Released on a double bill with Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) in
North America during February 1961, Black Sunday proved to be box office gold for AIP,
outperforming its original premiere in Italy and raking in record profits for the distributor.
Black Sunday also elevated the formerly little-known Barbara Steele to cult stardom,
and subsequent leading roles in a string of genre movies led to her becoming a beloved icon of horror cinema. Most critical reviews of Black Sunday were positive; the stunning medieval Gothic sets Bava achieved on a shoestring budget were praised as well as for the most part, the (at the time) strong content of the film  - even in its diluted state, Black Sunday was considered audacious. Elated with the enthusiastic response to Bava’s masterpiece, AIP soon got in touch with the Italian director again to negotiate the U.S. release of what is generally considered to be the first giallo feature, La ragazza che sapeve troppo (The Evil Eye, 1963).

Soon after completing Gli invasori (Erik the Conqueror, 1961), Bava suffered a nervous
breakdown. He took a six month break, during which he seriously considered retiring from
directing and only working on special effects on films from thereon. However, Bava was
convinced – albeit reluctantly - to return to the director’s chair, by Arkoff and Nicholson,
who had begun co-producing Italian features for release in the United States. Bava was still in the recovery process from his illness and didn’t feel entirely ready to return to work, only
doing so for financial reasons.  La ragazza che sapeve troppo, a mystery involving a young
tourist (Leticia Roman) witnessing a brutal murder while on vacation in Rome, and is then
targeted by the killer herself when she reports the crime to the police. At the time, Italian
horror and thriller movies were generally adult-oriented, containing more violence, sexual
and mature themes and a much darker atmosphere than their American counterparts, which
catered to a youth audience. As AIP’s target viewers were young adults, they decided to
lighten the tone of the film for the American cut by requesting Bava film some comedic
scenes which were included in that version. They also eliminated all references to marijuana
(erasing a key plot point in the process) and modified the ending. AIP also found the original
movie title (The Girl Who Know Too Much) too imitative of Alfred Hitchcock – even though
the film itself was a parody of Hitchcock’s thrillers – retitling it The Evil Eye. Les Baxter was
called in to replace Roberto Nicolosi’s too ‘European’ sounding jazz soundtrack, providing a
more standard composition (cheerful music during the humorous moments, bombastic
‘shock’ cues to signal tense scenes, etc). In either version, Bava always considered La
ragazza che sapeve troppo – a brilliant forerunner of the entire giallo genre - to be one of his worst pictures, perhaps also due to unpleasant memories of the breakdown. His next feature and collaboration with AIP, I tre volti della paura (Black Sabbath, 1963), was in contrast always one of his personal favourites of his own works.
I tre volti della paura comprises of a trio of horror stories introduced by Boris Karloff. In
‘The Telephone’, an unstable prostitute (Michele Mercier) is stalked and terrorised by an
escaped prisoner (Milo Quesada) determined to wreak vengeance on her in relation to a past event. ‘The Wurdalak’ involves a family patriarch (Boris Karloff) transformed into a vampire and inflicted by a curse which drives him to kill only his loved ones, specifically his blood and extended relatives. ‘The Drop of Water’ is the tale of a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) who unwisely steals a valuable ring from a recently deceased medium when preparing her corpse. The enraged spirit of the medium is determined to retrieve her ring and embarks on a campaign of fear against the nurse. 

I tre volti della paura was filmed during an eight week period in early 1963. Bava was
able to secure Karloff to the production as he was under contract with AIP. The pair got along very well – Karloff later stated that his time working on I tre volti della paura was some of the most fun he’d ever had on a film set. AIP set about making their own tamer cut for U.S. moviegoers, renaming it Black Sabbath to link it to Bava’s previous Black Sunday. AIP
deleted all sexual references in ‘The Telephone’ segment and replaced these themes with a
supernatural angle. The order of the stories was switched around and Karloff’s introductions
altered via addition material shot by Bava to lighten the intensity of the film. Scenes of
violence were also muted by darkening offending frames or optically enlarging them to crop
out said gory moments. Therefore, the colour scheme of Italian print is much brighter and
vibrant in comparison. Roberto Nicolosi’s classy soundtrack was once again replaced with a
decidedly inferior and bland Les Baxter score. AIP released Black Sabbath in the States in
May 1964 on a double bill with The Evil Eye.

Next up Bava decided to try his hand at science fiction, directing his first and only title of
that genre, Terrore nello spazio (Planet of the Vampires, 1965). Two spaceships land on the
planet Aura. Unbeknown to both crews, a disembodied alien race resides on Aura. Wanting
to escape their derelict world, the aliens seek to possess the bodies of the human visitors.
Planet of the Vampires, as Terrore nello spazio was retitled by AIP, was paired with Die,
Monster, Die! (Monster of Terror, 1965) for its U.S. screenings. Planet of the Vampires
received the least modifications out of all of the AIP distributed Bava features. Two minutes
were trimmed from the original Italian cut, predominately of actors exploring the mist
enshrouded planet and some minimal character exposition. Bava’s sole sci-fi project has
received much critical praise for its innovate storyline and striking visual design. Critics have
also frequently noted the similarities between Planet of the Vampires and Ridley Scott’s
Alien (1979), however Scott and Alien’s screenwriter Dan O’Bannon both claim to have
never seen Bava’s picture.

Le spie vengono dal semifreddo (Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, 1966), Bava’s final
feature to be distributed by AIP, was unfortunately an unmitigated disaster. Producer Fulvio
Luscome of Italian International Pictures was planning a sequel to the successful comedy
spoof Due Mafiosi contro Goldginger (The Amazing Doctor G, 1965), starring popular Italian
comedy duo Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. Upon consulting with co-financers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson, it was agreed upon that the original Italian version would be filmed as the planned Franchi and Ingrassia vehicle; whilst the English dub would star Vincent Price and be converted to a follow up to the Price hit Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini
Machine (1965). The U.S. cut involves a scheming mad scientist, Dr. Goldfoot (Vincent
Price) planning world domination via his creation of an army of sexy female robots that
explode when embraced. Goldfoot programs his lethal robots to seduce generals of NATO
countries. Since Bava was contracted to both AIP and Lucisano for one more movie, it was
decided this would be it. However, the project was not Bava’s cup of tea and he tried to back out of the project, especially upon learning he would not be permitted to have any input on the finalised American cut. Bava had no choice in the matter though due to being
contractually obligated. An unenthusiastic Bava proceeded with the Italian version, which
was subsequently re-written during the dubbing process, as well as dramatically re-edited, to place emphasis on Price’s Dr. Goldfoot character. The ever dependable Les Baxter was hired for re-scoring duties, replacing Lallo Gori’s jazz soundtrack. Both interpretations are lame, rambling satires of Dr. No (1962) and Goldfinger (1964), with neither version drawing
crowds in upon their theatrical releases in late 1965. Generally viewed as Bava’s worst film,
even its star Vincent Price considered Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs "...the most dreadful
movie I've ever been in. Just about everything that could go wrong, did.”

Despite the unfortunate experience of Le spie vengono dal semifreddo, Mario Bava was
looked upon with great esteem by AIP, who actually asked Bava to continue on with the
company - on the condition that he relocate to the USA. However he preferred to stay in
Italy, despite being offered a sizable paycheck. Producer and distributor Lawrence Woolner
also invited Bava to work exclusively for Allied Artists after his AIP contract expired – again
he did not want to leave his homeland. Bava turned down such further offers, including
$100,000 from Dino De Laurentiis to complete the special effects for the 1976 remake of
King Kong. Although Bava would have undoubtedly received both much more prominence
and prosperity had he decided to move to the U.S., the man himself was notoriously private,
rarely granting interviews and only leaving Rome when necessary. Preferring to work with
smaller budgets and crews, it is likely that the much larger, mega-budgeted sets of Hollywood would have been overwhelming and daunting for the introverted, reclusive Bava. Keeping in mind the director’s tendency to both underplay and undermine his own work when questioned about it in interviews and reluctance to self-promote, AIP deserve due recognition and merit for being the first distribution company outside of Italy to recognise Bava’s phenomenal talent, broadening his audience to North America, then subsequently the world.